Hollande tells Suu Kyi France will back Myanmar transition

Michael Mainville
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France's President Francois Hollande and Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi

France's President Francois Hollande and Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi walk in the garden of the Elysee presidential palace following a meeting, in Paris. Hollande told Suu Kyi Tuesday that France would do everything possible to back the country's democratic transition, as she visited Paris for the last leg of a landmark European tour

President Francois Hollande told Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi during her Paris visit Tuesday that France would do everything possible to back the country's democratic transition.

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, on the final leg of a landmark European tour, meanwhile called for investment in her country's struggling economy, but said this should not be at the expense of ongoing political reforms.

Hollande, after welcoming the democracy leader at the Elysee Palace, said France will support "all actors" in Myanmar's reforms and that Paris was ready to host reformist President Thein Sein if he wanted to visit.

"I reaffirm here that France will support all the actors in (Myanmar)'s democratic transition and will do everything possible with... the European Union so that this process goes to the end," Hollande said.

Asked at their joint press conference about ex-general Thein Sein -- whom Myanmar's former colonial ruler Britain last week invited to visit -- Hollande said: "If he wants to come, he will come."

Suu Kyi, 67, came to France after warm welcomes in Switzerland, Norway, Ireland and Britain and was treated with honours normally accorded a head of state, including a dinner with Hollande.

Suu Kyi was freed from nearly two decades of house arrest in November 2010 and became a lawmaker this year as part of a gradual transition towards democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

"We need democracy as well as economic development," she said in Paris. "Development cannot be a substitute for democracy, it must be used to strengthen the foundations of democracy."

Suu Kyi said that "financial transparency in the extractive industries and, in fact, business in general" were essential to investment in the resource-rich country formerly called Burma.

Hollande also told Suu Kyi that the French oil giant Total, which operates the offshore Yadana gas field in Myanmar, was respecting environmental and labour laws in the country.

Total's presence in Myanmar has been contested by human rights activists, who have accused the firm of enriching and cooperating with the former junta that was accused of widepsread human rights abuses.

Hollande said: "If it ever happens that they don't respect (regulations), Mrs Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to call me any time so we can put things in order."

She said efforts still needed to be made to convince all members of the former regime of the need for reforms, but that Thein Sein seemed sincere.

"I believe that the president is sincere, and I believe that he is honest, but I cannot speak for everybody in the government," she said.

Speaking of the reform process, she said, "I don't think we can say it is irreversible until such time as the army is committed to that."

Wearing a green dress, pink shawl and yellow flowers in her hair, Suu Kyi was earlier greeted by well-wishers as she arrived by train from Britain.

"It's a very great joy... Seeing her here, free, it's historic," said Pierre Martial, head of the France Aung San Suu Kyi association.

"She is a fantastic role model. She made horror and dictatorship retreat through non-violence, it is very rare."

During her three-day visit, Suu Kyi will also meet Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and other political leaders, as well as members of the local Myanmar community and her supporters in human rights groups.

She enjoyed strong support among rights groups in France and was the subject of a 2011 French-English film biography, "The Lady", directed by French filmmaker Luc Besson and starring Michelle Yeoh.

Suu Kyi launched her Europe tour on June 13 in Switzerland and arrived in France from Britain, her home for years until she returned to fight for democracy in Myanmar, leaving her children and her English husband behind.

On June 16 in Oslo she finally delivered her Nobel Peace Prize speech, 21 years after winning the award while under house arrest.

Suu Kyi's trip has been clouded by violence in western Myanmar where dozens have been killed and an estimated 90,000 people have fled clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and stateless Muslim Rohingya.

Asked about the unrest, Suu Kyi said: "We will need time to bring true harmony between the Muslims and the Buddhists

"What is most important at the moment is that we should establish rule of law," she said. "We need to make sure that these citizenship laws are in line with international standards."